Friday, March 20, 2015

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landry

Skulduggery Pleasant (Skulduggery Pleasant, #1)Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have had the print book on my bookshelf for years, but I decided to try the audiobook from my library as this looked like it would be fun to listen to. Turns out I was right. This was a lot of fun. The narrator was great. He had a delicious Irish accent, although he modified it to suit other characters. I liked his sort of flat tone he used for Skulduggery, making him sound kind of ironic and mysterious, like there was a lot going on under the surface.

At first, it's a bit odd. There's some weird music between interludes, followed by a low male voice saying, "Yeah!" I thought that was pretty weird and random, but it grew on me, fast. I had no expectations, so it was all novel for me. I expected the story to be campy, but it turns out to be pretty dark.

Now the characters.

Skulduggery is a fun and likable character. But he's also credibly tough. He's a sorcerer who happened to lose his body in an epic battle. I wondered how the author would get me to buy into a story where the main character is just a skeleton. It took about ten minutes. When I heard the explanation, I was like, "Okay then." At some points, I'm skeptical that he's so blase about 12-year -old Stephanie going along with him on some very dangerous adventures. But I have to remind myself that the target audience is 12-year-olds. Skulduggery is a chill dude. It's funny how sanguine he is about Stephanie's bossing him around and threatening to hit him. Maybe he enjoys it because he's lonely. He was great friends with her uncle, so he might have developed a fondness for her via his friend. At any rate, he was very tolerant to Stephanie and he clearly took it very seriously to protect her, even if he did take her along on his dangerous missions. Knowing Stephanie, she probably would have followed him. Skulduggery is a good guy. You would think he'd be menacing, with the whole skeletal appearance, but he's an all around good guy, although he does have enough of a dark edge to be appealing and authentic. The interview with him at the end was awesome. Just the right touch for the audiobook.

Stephanie is in some ways very much a girl of her age. Tween and teenage girls have attitude for days. Yes, it's a bit of a generalization, but there is a lot of truth in it. She also had a very vivid inner life that I recognized in myself. Not that I would have wanted to do every thing she does (okay, maybe some of it). She's pretty saucy, if I'm honest. It made me laugh and part of thought I'd get the taste slapped out of my mouth if I had talked to an adult that way when I was a kid. All in all, she's a well-drawn character, with the sass, bravery, sense of honor and a great sense of humor that should appeal to most readers.

Together, they make quite a team. I enjoyed their buddy movie banter. Even if Stephanie could be kind of rude to Skulduggery. I loved it when he told her she was "very annoying."

The secondary characters are good, all making sense to the story. I liked the interactions between Stephanie and her clueless parents. They were cute. In a way, it was pretty obvious that Stephanie pretty much got away with a lot more than you'd expect for her age with them.

I like that the tone of this book stays intense but with some good humor. I like that while Landry doesn't take himself too seriously, he shows respect for the intellect of his young readers. In other words, he doesn't make the story too silly or ridiculous. We are dealing with a very evil set of villains with uber-nefarious purposes. Some aspects were fairly creepy, and it reminded me a little of Simon R. Green's Nightside books in a good way. China Sorrow especially definitely made me think of a Nightside character. Don't get me wrong. I don't think this was derivative at all. It feels novel and unique amongst the many urban fantasy stories I've read or encountered. It has a lot of good action, and Skulduggery can fight, with his fists, with his trusty sidearm, and with his elemental magic. Speaking of, the magic elements were well done. They had a unique feel. I like the explanation about the different types of magic users. I think this series would make a fun movie. I'd be cool with either live action or animation.

I definitely want to continue this series, and I am crossing my fingers that I can get the rest of these on audiobook.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Doll BonesDoll Bones by Holly Black
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Did you know that the fear of dolls is called Pediophobia? It is. I just learned something new just now about my deep-seated fear of antique dolls. Suffice it to say that I for one find antique dolls very creepy. Apparently, I'm not alone. Holly Black seemed to take pediophobia and run with it. Imagine these kids who have their elaborate role-playing game that involves action figures and dolls, and they employ one of the girl's mom's prized possessions as the Great Queen. She rules over the imaginary lands in their games like a sinister matriarch.

When Zach's father throws away his action figures, Zach is devastated, and he is forced to abandon the games he plays with Poppy and Alice, leaving them both confused and feeling betrayed. Poppy decides that they need a quest, and the quest takes the form of a mission given by the spirit of the doll, a young girl named Eleanor, who comes to Poppy in her dreams. Zach needs and craves an adventure, even if he's not sure he believes completely in this Eleanor. Although the doll does seem to have a creepy life to her. Alice is the peacemaker of the trio, with a very overprotective, controlling grandmother, and she's developing feelings for Zach that go beyond friendship.

This trio of friends go on an adventure to settle the restless spirit of Eleanor, and perhaps in the process, they can mend their broken friendship.

I listened to Doll Bones on audio, and I think this is the ideal format for this book. The narrator makes the most of the creepy elements of this story. He's good with voices and altering his pitch to mimic the voice of tween girls in a way that feels authentic. He also captures the chaotic emotions of children of this age, especially those with troubled home lives like all three kids.

I wouldn't say this was scary enough to cost a woman my age some sleep, but it did give me a shiver or too. It also made me feel nostalgic for the imaginative games of childhood that are now in my past. I didn't have the same close trio of friends to play dolls with, but I did play Barbie dolls on my own for longer than I care to admit, and the power of one's imagination takes those dolls to a place where they are endowed a life one wouldn't expect of carved figures of plastic.

As far as parental guidance, the aspect of these young kids taking off on an adventure in the middle of the night would probably make the average parent's hair stand on its end. There are some other questionable moral choices that would make me caution a parent to have some oversight if their younger child read this book. Nothing too crazy, but certainly worthy of caution.

This was good but not great. I definitely recommend reaching for the audiobook if one's interest is perked.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Silence for the Dead by Simone St. James

Silence For the DeadSilence For the Dead by Simone St. James

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

After reading Ms. St. James first book, The Haunting of Maddy Clare, I made a note to keep reading her books. I was that impressed. I am quite fond of the early 20th Century period in a fictional setting, and this seems to be a particular area of interest for her as well.  With this book, she focused on the troubled homefront of Post-WWI England, when veterans are coming back from the war damaged, both in body and in mind. Kitty Weekes is desperate for a job, desperate enough to take a job at Portis House, an isolated mental health facility for veterans. She lies about being a nurse, and she's caught in her lie, but the Matron allows her to keep the job anyway, as she's that desperate for another 'nurse'.  Kitty soon realizes just how wrong things are at Portis House, but it's not like she has anywhere else to go.

"Silence for the Dead" is Gothic fiction, and the author does choose a fearsome setting in a haunted mental hospital.  Unfortunately, this book lacked the degree of authentic and effective atmosphere that this story cried out for.  I expected to be really unsettled by this story, considering its setting in an asylum with a troubled history as a family home whose family disappeared under decidedly strange circumstances.  It seems to suggest some very powerful emotions of fear of isolation, abandonment and entrapment.  However, I felt that things just didn't come together very well.  I thought that some unsettling events that occur in the house would be explained or tie more strongly into the story and origin of the haunting, but they weren't in a satisfactory way.  Don't get me wrong. There were some parts that were quite eerie. However, I think that this story could have been a lot more frightening than it was, considering the subject matter.

One of the things I liked most about this novel was the authentic characters, most of whom are veterans who suffer from profound mental illness as a result of the horrors of the war.  It was quite sad how they were viewed by the public and their families as a whole. As cowards in that they were emotionally and mentally affected by the events occurring on the Front. Only a veteran can truly attest to the statement "War is Hell," and one would think that their loved ones would respect that they had survived and came home, even if they were tormented by their experiences.  It was a slap in the face at how some of this men were treated, as if their surviving the war was an affront, as opposed to dying as "heroes".  This aspect of the book spoke strongly to me, and gave me a lot to think about, as we still deal with veterans and how their lives are profoundly impacted by their war experiences. It's a good reminder to me to show sensitivity and to pray for their healing and restoration from their wounds.

This story has a strong romantic element that I did appreciate, although it did seem kind of crammed into the story around the Gothic and paranormal suspense elements.  I really liked Jack and Kitty both. They were strong characters who had both suffered and understood what rejection and isolation was. In Kitty's case, she was very wise beyond her young years, and carried her own set of battle scars.  She actually keeps my interest the most and remains a rootable character throughout this novel. I do have to say that the veterans did grow on me and I hoped for their well-being over the course of the novel.

I wish I liked this book more than I did, quite simply.  For me, it failed to attain the potential the setting and story seems to promise.  However, it was a good book, and I certainly did appreciate Kitty and Jack, and the setting and time period.  For what it's worth, I think this would make a good movie.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Sunday, March 01, 2015

Fairest Volume 2: The Hidden Kingdom by by Bill Willingham, Lauren Beukes, IƱaki Miranda (Illustrations)

Fairest, Vol. 2: The Hidden KingdomFairest, Vol. 2: The Hidden Kingdom by Bill Willingham

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Once again, Bill Willingham and company have created a fresh spin on a fairy tale. And he takes Rapunzel to a very adult and at times disturbing journey to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Rapunzel has been looking for her children for many, many years.  Even though she was forced to forget them, she never really does.  That was a poignant note in this story.  An interesting touch was that Rapunzel's hair grows continually, and she experiences very rapid growth spurts of her hair under strong emotion.  You can guess how that plays into the story! Her companion is one of the Crow brothers, who is also her hairdresser.  Her time in Japan opens the doorway to a story full of Japan's very imaginative, and in some ways very frightful folklore. 

If you're like me and Japanese horror movies scare the you know what out of you, you might find this volume therapeutic.  There is an interesting twist on the drowned maiden in the well.  And I will never look at hairballs the same way again. 

There are some dark elements in this one, probably the most out of all the Fables/Fairest volumes I've read, so reader beware.  Having said that, I loved it just as much as the other ones. Rapunzel is both sympathetic and at times, really kind of scary.  I've never thought much about her, so this volume definitely has me seeing her in a different light.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars

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Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde

Cloaked in RedCloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Quite honestly, I liked the idea of this collection more than I liked the stories. I did appreciate the humor and the fact that Velde did address the issues she'd always had with the Little Red Ridinghood story in its varied incarnations.  I actually agree with her on many points. However, I think a few of the stories took a bit too much of a left turn.  One even goes into a direction that makes the Woodsman into a foil who complicates the storylines of several other fairy tale protagonists. Clever touch, but I was annoyed with the man, honestly.  I really liked the story from the viewpoint of Red's grandmother who makes friends with the wolf in an intriguing way. I have a soft spot for wolves, so I rather liked that the wolf wasn't necessarily the villain in most of the stories. The last story was a fun touch about Red's cloak being sentient.  Overall, Red doesn't come off in a very flattering way. But I think that's kind of the point of things.  Clearly Velde doesn't think the traditional fairy tale treats Red as the smartest or most interesting character anyway.

The narrator really kicks this up a notch.  She makes the story fun with her different voices and intonations.   I felt like she had fun reading this book.  That's always a good thing.

Overall, this was a fun audiobook, but it isn't nearly my favorite when it comes to fairy tale retellings.  However, if you are a fairy tale freak like me, you'd probably want to check it out.

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The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow PlaceThe Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book. It was delightful, from beginning to end.  I was searching for how to classify it, and in the afterward, Ms. Berry mentioned the term, British Farce. And that's what this is.  I am all for Girl Power, and this book is very much about girl power and the bond between girls/women.  Not only is this a sisterhood bonding story, it's also a bit like Oceans Eleven, one of those caper-type stories where you have a disparate group of individuals who are thrown together under a common bond.  I'd call these girls the Scandalous Seven.  You have Dear Roberta, Dull Martha, Pocked Louise, Dour Elinor, Stout Alice, Disgraceful Mary Jane and their de facto leader, Smooth Kitty.  Each girl brings a different characteristic to the book, and I loved each and every one of them. I just wanted to give them all a hug (even Elinor, whose obsession was death was a little bit disturbing at times).

Such a dark subject, a double murder at a quiet ladies school. However, Berry handles it with a deft touch. Instead of spending too much time dwelling on the horror of the girls' predicament, the reader is focused on how these girls react to it and take measures to prevent their sisterhood from ending prematurely.  I like the way they work together, and despite the typical occasional squabbles among young women, they look out for each other and validate each other.

I loved the humor. It was mostly subtle, but sometimes laugh out loud. It reminds me very much of British comedy with some British mystery thrown in. 

There is a nice dose of romance, because, well they are young women, and romance is often a factor. However, the youngest, Pocked Louise, could give a fig for boys. She's our resident sleuth, and a very smart sleuth she is and she thinks boys are foul.  The other ladies, all seem to find guys who prick their fancy. Even Smooth Kitty, who thinks she's got everything all figured out. It thought it was so funny how big a flirt Disgraceful Mary Jane was, and a very unrepentant one at that!

I have been quite stingy with five star ratings lately, but I can't talk myself out of giving one for this book. I am very thankful to Olga Godim for bringing "The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place" to my attention. It was scandalously good!

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Injustice: Gods Among Us, Vol. 1 by Tom Taylor, Jheremy Raapack (Illustrations), Various (Illustrations)

Injustice: Gods Among Us, Vol. 1Injustice: Gods Among Us, Vol. 1 by Tom    Taylor

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

What could drive Superman to commit the ultimate act--murder?

Injustice deals in a very frank manner with that question.  It was quite terrifying to see Superman go over the edge. He doesn't go to the extreme of Plutonian in Irredeemable, Vol. 1, but he goes to dark places that it's uncomfortable to see, and his actions divide the Justice League as a result.  I have to say that Wonder Woman was a bit scary in this book.  Out of all of the characters, I think that Batman stays true to form.

I haven't played the game, so I can't say how closely the storyline mirrors the videogame. I wonder if they didn't beef up the backstory based on a basic premise in the videogame.  It makes for a good graphic novel, but don't look for the characters to stay as true to their typical ethoses in the canon storyline. That's not what we get here.

I liked the cameo by Harley Quinn, although I still don't get why she's so in love with the Joker.  Her teasing of Green Arrow was pretty funny, I must say.

If you can get this from your library, it's worth a read.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Alice's Adventure in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

This is a hard book to rate. Honestly, most of it is quite silly. I have seen movie versions and adaptations and I knew that it was pretty bizarre. But in the reading, it's a bit...well, absurd. If that is one what is expecting, it's a pretty good book. I think that one has to have a high tolerance for silly puns. Some of which are a bit obscure for a modern audience, but I think that kids that read it during that era would have appreciated it.

What I liked the most about it, is, well, Alice. She's adorable. She has the clear and genuine logic and outlook of a child, and I like that about her. She's a bit precocious, but not in an obnoxious way. If she not had been, well, I'm sure she would have found Wonderland quite scary and maybe had a nervous breakdown. She approaches this bizarre place of Wonderland from her vantage point and takes everything pretty well (and with a fair amount of acceptance), considering...

I laughed pretty loud at the absurdity and I loved the narrator, Marianne Margulies's impersonations of the characters. The croquet game was fantastically written and the court scene was pretty funny as well. I kept yelling "Off With His Head," along with the Red Queen. I thought the end was a bit abrupt, but I guess it makes sense in context. There are some sad, poignant aspects that hit the right note as well (the way that the story hits on the mourning one feels for the innocence and joy of childhood as an adult).

It's nice to have read this book and to see that many versions of the book in tv/movies do a good job of capturing the essence of the novel. Generally, movies don't do so well, but I think Alice has been treated fairly faithfully throughout the years.

I will probably read some critical essays on the work and see what I pick up about some of the hidden meanings and themes and cultural relevance, since I'm not really sure about that. On surface value, it was fun and silly, and pretty enjoyable. I recommend getting this on audio. The puns and songs were a lot more funny this way.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Grimm Conclusion by Adam Gidwitz

The Grimm Conclusion (A Tale Dark & Grimm, #3) (Audio CD)The Grimm Conclusion (A Tale Dark & Grimm, #3) by Adam Gidwitz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am sad that this series is over, but it ends in such a satisfying way. I do think that this series is required reading for those who like fairy tales and especially clever retellings. Each volume ups the ante on the grim aspect of fairy tales. Each book seems less appropriate for a younger audience. I'm torn on that. Mr. Gidwitz is obviously a teacher, and he understands the young minds he writes for. I mean, he has to in order to teach them. I'm going to trust that he knows what they can handle, but my personal limit would be 12 or older for these books. There is way too much dark violence and subject matter for kiddos younger than twelve, to my thinking. Also, the cruelty of adults against children in this book is highly disturbing.

I also think this is the saddest out of the series. Wow, the things that our young protagonists are faced with really tore at my heart. And how the cruelty and neglect they experienced warped something inside of them. Gidwitz deals with the psychology of abused/neglected children in a poignant way without getting too soapboxy.

There are some great life lessons here. Family, loyalty, honor, integrity, kindness, and making moral decisions. These kids have to raise themselves and that leads to some issues when they are faced with adult moral decisions. Along the way they make mistakes and have to learn from them and 'face the music.'

This book breaks the 4th wall in a way that the other ones in the series did not. At first, I really didn't like that about the book, but then I saw how integral it was to the story. It was also good because Gidwitz doesn't follow the predictable pattern I expected.

Johnny Heller truly is an awesome narrator. If he didn't win an award for narrating this series, then he was cheated. He deserves it. He was all in, and you would have to wonder how he didn't get emotionally affected by this book as he read. Not just in horror or sadness, but in hilarity, because this book involves all those emotions.

I am biased. I love fairy tales a lot. Yet, I think that increases my standards for fairy tale retellings. Gidwitz is a writer who clearly loves fairy tales just as much as I do, if not more. He respects the genre, and it clearly is a huge creative influence on him in crafting these marvelous books that add very much to the cultural relevance of fairy tales.

If you have not checked these out and you like fairy tales, what are you waiting for?

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Event by David Lynn Golemon

Event (Event Group Adventure, #1)Event by David Lynn Golemon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a very good book, although the start was a little rocky. I think that this is an ambitious story, but the reward was sweet. I haven't read that many Alien Invasion novels, because I don't find them that interesting. However, Golemon took the events of Roswell and made it relevant and also far from cheesy. In fact, he took it in an imaginative direction.

When people think of UFO and alien sitings, the 'little green men' always come up. Also, there seems to be a dichotomy when people speak of aliens, either the kind, friendly little green men or the evil aliens who want to probe and dissect humans, and have a sinister purpose. I really liked how Golemon speaks to this alien folklore in a very cool way. He also threw in the type of aliens that scare me like crazy, you know like the Ridley Scott/James Cameron xenomorphs, animalistic creatures of mass destruction with no pity and no morality, but only a hunger and a desire to propagate? The thought of those creatures of earth is massively scary. So it was a neat mix of what we consider aliens in popular culture.

For the conspiracy theorists, there's a nice bit of government alien coverup conspiracy thrown in. The Event Group is integral to that, but also larger and more expansive. This was a really neat idea that I feel the author can take into many directions. I like the tidbits of other famous history elements that were thrown in, like finding the body of a certain 4th century King of Britain (you know who!).

As I read this, I wondered how the author could take such a broad concept and cover it in the relative short 470 odd pages in a satisfactory manner. He does. The ending was quite epic! I hate that so many people died so horribly in this book. I guess that's how it would pay out if there was an invasion of such brutal aliens, but I still didn't like it. Quite a few wince-worthy moments, but also plenty of cheering as the good guy stick it to the next alien monsters of devastation.

Other than the slow start, my major criticism was characterization. I felt that some the characters weren't as well-developed as I would have liked. I sure did like Senator Lee though. What a character! I would love to meet that guy. I pictured an elderly Gregory Peck as Lee. I liked his assistant, Alice Hamilton. Their relationship obviously was a lifelong bond, and it showed. I also liked Gus, the gold prospector who plays a pivotal role. I did like Jack Collins, but he did seem a bit thin at times. He could have used more fleshing out, I thought. Mainly portrayed as a man of action and deep principle. I would just like more of his inner life. I think that is the brooder/analytical thinker in me. I like to dive deep into characters and explore their inner lives as much as I enjoy action moments. I will look forward to following him in later books, regardless. Sarah certainly could have used more development. She seemed like a throwaway character to a big degree. I know with this ambitious story, it's hard to keep up with all the characters, but I feel that the author should pick the most pivotal characters and develop them to the best degree possible.

I'm glad that this was selected as the group read this month. It was a fun, involving read, and while aliens are not a favorite theme or subject for me, Goleman perked my interest and took me on a varied emotional reading journey with this book.

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Second Grave on the Left by Darynda Jones

Second Grave on the Left (Charley Davidson, #2)Second Grave on the Left by Darynda Jones
My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars

These books are fab on audiobook. Lorelei King is an excellent narrator. While I'm sure these books are enjoyable reading regardless, they are downright fantastic as audiobooks.

Darynda Jones is a hoot. No pun is too silly for her. Charley is hard to take too seriously, but she's definitely the real deal. Charley feels like every woman's id in some ways. She says and does what she thinks. I mean, she named her breasts and ovaries. But I like that she owns who she is. She had to work hard to be okay with her gift and her persona, even when her family doesn't understand her and some don't even accept her for who she is. I like how Charley is kind of boycrazy. She always notices and often flirts with cute guys. It makes her feel more realistic to me and adds to her distinctive persona. And let's admit, some of us girls are a bit boycrazy (we might not take all the guys home, but we do notice them). I like how the story can be outrageous silliness in some parts and very evocative drama in others.

Reyes is absolutely droolicious. Yeah, I don't like to think about who is his dad is though. But outside of that, yum! He is obviously cray-cray about Charley, and I'm a sucker for that kind of hero, for reals. There is a touching innocence about him. It sounds weird, but that's what I get from him. At the same time, man he's so lethal and kickbutt. He's a great match for Charley. I'm leaning towards Theo James as my Reyes.

I also really like Garrett. I like how they trade wisecracks and how even when he doesn't understand Charley, he's a good friend to her. My Garett is definitely Michael Ealy. I'm crushing on Garrett pretty hard now. I must admit.

I enjoyed picturing him as I read this book on the Garrett parts. (big smile)

This is one series where the secondary characters really add so much to the read. I like hearing how Charley interacts with the people around her. Cookie is a fun sidekick/friend/employee and the two of them make a wacky pair in their adventures in this book. Uncle Bob, or UB is an old softie. There are several secondary characters I really liked, and Ms. King made them all distinct in how she narrated their parts.

The mystery was good and I really didn't want to stop listening. It kept me guessing and working my way through the list of subjects. As a result, I ended finishing this in a little over 24 hours. I was making Valentines and doing my drawing homework, and it was great to listen to while I worked.

I'm officially hooked on this series. I'm super glad my library has most of these (if not all) on audio. This is definitely one to do the audios, because Lorelei King's narration is not to be missed. A great mix of paranormal/supernatural/ghost story, mystery and wackiness.

Overall rating: 4.25/5.0 stars

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Silver Shark by Ilona Andrews

Silver Shark (Kinsmen, #2)Silver Shark by Ilona Andrews
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This was a hard book to rate because the writing is very divergent in the first part versus the last. Very crisp and rather mechanical at the beginning and more descriptive and lush in the last half. I understand why though. Claire goes from being in a gray world in which she is a lethal asset, to living a real life. I think that this is evident in the storytelling.

I can't rave enough about this team of writers, Ilona and Gordon Andrews. Their ability to tell a story with words so well, to convey so many different emotions, and their lack of fear of getting in your face with the violence. And deep down, they are real romantics. I feel like I'm the kind of reader who loves an action/kickbutt story as much as a romance story, and they're great at giving both.

As with Silent Blade, I really like how this is a nod to traditional romance along the lines of Harlequin category books buried in a science fiction action story. In this book, the heroine is in love with and pining for her unattainable boss. She just happens to be a total bad*ss mental assassin who could turn most people's brains into soup with a minimal amount of effort. That was pretty cute, and as a diehard Harley fan, I squeed a little bit. I'll be honest. I liked that Venturo was actually a really nice guy (how cool is it when a hot guy is nice too)? I could feel Claire's conflicted feeling, being in love with him but feeling under his notice. And since it's important to be incognito, she really didn't want to be.

There is a lot of detail given to developing the cultures of the various people, and it's crucial to the story. From Uley to Dahlia, each are very distinctive, and the reader feels Claire's culture shock keenly.

The theme of virtual reality was pretty cool. The descriptions were cinematic and I loved how each psycher saw the landscape differently. I suck at video games, but it reminded me of that andrenaline rush of playing a game and knowing you are going to get nailed to the wall by a better player or the game itself. Of course, Claire had no worries on that score.

This series is so cool. I hope there will be many more books.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Good Groom Hunting by Shana Galen

Good Groom Hunting (Misadventures in Matrimony, #2)Good Groom Hunting by Shana Galen
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This was a delightful read. Just what I needed, to get immersed into an escapist story that kept my eyes glued to the page. I think that Josie and Westman are such a great couple. I love how Westman's determination to be a better, more sober man is juxtaposed with Josie's impish desire to be free and do what she wants.

Normally, I'm not a big fan of the hoydenish historical heroine, but Galen does it very well with Josie. Her desire to be a free woman is very understandable and I respected her for it. I liked how she was out and out propositioning Westman in the desire to take a lover with no strings attached. Yes, I hear the record scratching for all the folks who know me. But it really did work for this book. I could see that Josie wasn't anachronistic. She understood, although somewhat naively, that her choices weren't the typical. But after a being in a family where her scary mother holds her on a very tight leash and dealing with the double standards for females, she is determined to live her own life and make her own decisions. She has never gotten over her childish wish to be a pirate like her grandfather.

Westman seems like a good partner, despite the fact that their families are sworn enemies and he's avoiding his old rakish ways, and he's arrogant, bossy and domineering like other men. She's drawn to him in ways that don't quite make sense at first. But as this story unfolds, Josie realizes that there is no way she can keep her heart unattached, and she really doesn't want an uninvolved (other than sexually) lover.

I think Westman is a super sweetie. I really felt respect for him that he had faced how ugly his actions were before he shipped off to India. He wanted to be a better man and make amends. He desired Josie, but in his mind, she was just the kind of woman he'd loved to get involved with when he was a conscienceless rake. However, Josie is different. She's ready to meet him as an equal. She might be inexperienced in comparison, but she's a passionate woman and the only woman for him.

The love scenes are very steamy and well-written. Josie and Westman have great chemistry and you could see that love wasn't far behind. The ending was very romantic. Westmore's gesture turned me into a buttery puddle on the floor. I really needed a strong romance story this weekend, and this fit the bill. I loved how even though their family issues weren't fully resolved, they made a united stand as a couple who were deeply in love, together and fully committed to each other.

I love the camaraderie between Josie and her cousins. They are all different foils for each other, and great partners in crime. If you haven't checked out this older series, you should if you like fun, sexy, exciting, adventurous historicals with heroines and heroes who are perfect for each other, but don't find out until you do about that.

The adventure aspect is a crucial part of this story, and I liked how Galen intersperses letters and correspondence from the history of their grandparents. I still have a fascination with pirates and while this is past the golden age of piracy, it fits well in this story through Josie and Westman's familial heritage as grandchildren of pirates.

There really is much to love about this book. I'm being more picky about giving five star ratings, but this is very close. It was the right book at the right time. Looking forward to continuing this series!

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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